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While the long-term effects of COVID-19 are not yet fully understood, one thing is clear: The disease can present a cardiac risk to sufferers, including previously healthy athletes.

COVID-19’s cardiac risk can consist of complications such as myocarditis, which we have already seen cases in the collegiate and professional settings.

Myocarditis can have significant long term effects on athletes. In some cases, the impact of undetected myocarditis can be tragic.

In light of COVID-19’s cardiac impact, sports leagues and universities all over the nation are taking extra steps to screen athletes who test positive for the virus. Athletic Heart is leading the way in developing and implementing many of these large-scale screening solutions.

Organizational Approaches to COVID-19 Screenings

Professional and collegiate sports organizations that are choosing to begin their seasons this year are implementing increased monitoring and protocols for clearing athletes who test positive for COVID-19. Most of these new regulations are established utilizing available knowledge regarding the negative cardiac impact of the virus.

Each organization’s testing and clearance approach is unique to its sport, but there are common themes that arise, thanks to the need for all organizations to mitigate the spread of the virus and evaluate the cardiac health of their athletes before resumption of play.

Cardiac Screenings

Once players complete their isolation periods following a confirmed positive COVID test, sports organizations are requiring their athletes to undergo a series of tests designed to ensure their cardiac health before they begin playing.

These tests are required in light of the understanding that COVID-19 may cause cardiac damage that is not yet fully understood. Identifying and addressing issues of cardiac damage is essential in protecting both student and professional athletes.

Some of the tests that may be required before athletes return to competition after a positive COVID-19 diagnosis usually includes a combination of the following:

  • Bloodwork
  • Echocardiogram
  • EKG
  • Cardiac MRI

These tests provide critical insights into a player’s cardiac health, allowing teams to clear them to play or revealing underlying issues that must be handled first.

These cardiac screenings are useful tools in identifying cardiac damage caused directly by COVID-19. However, in some cases they have also brought to light unrelated and previously undetected cardiac issues for these players.

The media, for example, recently brought to attention the case of Minnesota Vikings linebacker Cameron Smith, who underwent cardiac screening as part of a clearing protocol after he tested positive for COVID-19. The testing revealed the presence of a bicuspid aortic valve. He underwent open heart surgery to repair this condition and will miss the remainder of the season. Learn more.

Athletic Heart Involvement

Top-tier sports organizations and teams looking to screen athletes for cardiac issues after a positive COVID-19 test have turned to Athletic Heart for assistance in developing and implementing cardiac screening solutions. We have provided this assistance for professional soccer, basketball, wrestling and collegiate sports. In particular, we have enabled these organizations to do the following:

Provide Baseline Scans

In talking with the teams we specifically work with, one of the keys for them in diagnosing myocarditis and other abnormalities following a COVID-19 infection has been the ability to compare their current echocardiogram images to their preseason physical’s echocardiogram images.

Athletic Heart delivers the equipment and personnel required to efficiently obtain high-quality baseline scans of athletes which can then be used to effectively evaluate future scans for cardiac damage and abnormalities. These scans also bring to light unrelated cardiac issues that may otherwise have gone undetected, further highlighting the need for these tests.

Conduct Cost-Effective Screenings

Echocardiograms and EKGs save countless athlete lives. They can also be applied in a cost-effective manner to save teams money without compromising on their life-saving results.

Athletic Heart understands how to administer these scans in a cost-effective but reliable manner. As a result, we are able to keep team costs low while still ensuring the health of every team member.

Deliver Required Scalability

Sports teams handling cardiac clearing for their athletes require the ability to quickly scale up testing to handle their needs.

The ability to scale to meet the demands of a large university or sports organization has also helped to make high level diagnostic testing affordable.

Here at Athletic Health, we are able to quickly meet the numerous demands of these organizations. As a result, our solutions deliver some of the highest-quality results possible in a rapid and effective manner.

Ensure Quality

Accuracy in the administration and evaluation of these scans is also of the utmost importance. The lives and careers of affected athletes are often on the line. In addition, the data from these scans is sometimes used to further cardiac and COVID-19 research.

Athletic Heart consistently receives recognition for our ability to deliver research quality results for our clients. Professional adherence to protocols and the highest standards lead to reliable results.

Clearing COVID-19 positive athletes is a critical step for sports teams and organizations. Athletic Heart’s ability to deliver cost-effective and scalable solutions without compromising on quality is why many of these organizations have chosen to work with us. We look forward to continuing to provide the cardiac testing support necessary to adapt to COVID-19 and ensure the health and safety of top-tier sports professionals and student athletes.

“I have been using Athletic Heart for the last several years to assist in my cardiac research focused on athletes. I can attest the quality is very high (research quality studies). Further, the sonographers are dependable, always ensuring the clips I need are obtained. They never veer off specific protocols, which is obviously necessary for quality research. Athletic Heart is easy to work with and flexible with the needs of the researchers.”

– Jonathan H. Kim MD, MSc, FACC – Team Cardiologist Emory Athletics, Georgia Tech Athletics, Atlanta Falcons, Hawks and Braves.

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